U.S. Supreme Court Provides Clarity on Unlawful Cellphone Searches

The nation’s highest court has provided clarity on when and how cellphones can be searched.

In a win for privacy rights activists, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June that authorities are not allowed to search cellphones in connection to taking someone into custody. Instead, authorities must seek court-approved warrants before proceeding.

The question posed to the Supreme Court was to whether or not phone data fits in with other contraband that might be on a suspect, like in their pocket.

“Modern cell phones, as a category, implicate privacy concerns far beyond those implicated by the search of a cigarette pack, a wallet or a purse,” stated Chief Justice John Roberts upon making the ruling, according to USA Today.

The court’s ruling was unanimous and overturns a previous finding by an Appeals Court in the state of California that had granted police more leeway regarding such searches.

Police in the state had originally arrested a gang suspect after finding his car to have expired tags, using incriminating photos stored on his cellphone to convict him of weapons-related charges. Meanwhile, a case that posed similar controversy had occurred in Massachusetts.

Roberts made clear that he was fully aware of what implications the ruling could have, saying, “We cannot deny that our decision today will have an impact on the ability of law enforcement to combat crime.” The chief justice also noted that “Privacy comes at a cost,” according to USA Today’s report.

However, there is an exception to the new law – law enforcement officers are allowed to carry out warrantless searches of cellphone data should the situation present an immediate danger to the public, perhaps in instances of suspected terrorism.

While state laws on such issues may continue to vary, the latest ruling will, without a doubt, provide a better guideline on how law enforcement officials should operate nationwide.

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